November  2001 

                         Militarising Hindu society

Over the years, Sikhs scattered across the globe have successfully defended their right to say no to a helmet even at the workplace in countries where a workman is legally obliged to wear them as a safety measure. To do so, they have argued, would mean removing the turban from their heads, which for them is a religious obligation. Back home, some years ago, on being elected to the Lok Sabha, Simranjeet Singh Mann had insisted on his right to carry his kirpan inside the Indian Parliament. Wielded as a weapon, the kirpan could kill. But devout Sikhs maintain that the kirpan for them is an obligatory religious symbol, not an offensive weapon. Even post September 11, an American court has ruled that the kirpan on the person of a Sikh is indeed to be treated as a religious symbol.

It can be argued that what is kirpan to a Sikh a trishul is to a Hindu. And it is precisely for that reason that both are exempt from the provisions of the Indian Arms Act. Indians are all too familiar with the sight of sadhus moving around the country with the three–pronged trishul at the end of a pole, which also serves as a walking stick. So far so good. But now? As we all know, a very large number of people from the Sikh faith whom we encounter in daily life — offices, schools, public places — still wear turbans. But we come across very few Sikhs who still carry a kirpan. And apart from sadhus, one can hardly think of Hindus, however devout, who move around with trishuls.

What then does one make of the Bajrang Dal’s countrywide Trishul Diksha Samarohs in the course of which, according to Rajasthan’s chief minister, Ashok Gehlot, over 40 lakh Hindus have already been gifted with trishuls in recent months? Has the Bajrang Dal launched a campaign to turn all Hindus into devout sadhus? Given the track record of this extremist outfit, given its arms training camps across the country in the last two years, and given recent calls by some from the sangh parivar to Hindus to prepare to ‘defend’ themselves, religiosity is the least plausible motive driving the current campaign. The most incriminating aspect of the Bajrang Dal’s trishul is that it looks nothing like what one associates with sadhus — if anything, as Congress leaders and police officials point out, they are nothing but Rampuri knives that can kill, specially crafted to look like a religious symbol.

Without a shred of doubt, the Bajrang Dal is engaged a national programme to ‘militarise’ Hindus. If this should shock all peace–loving Indians, what is even more shocking is the fact that the insidious game plan has not created a national uproar. While drawing attention to this highly disturbing trend, our cover story this month also highlights what appears to be an obvious attempt on the part of the sangh parivar to replicate its highly effective experiment of communalising BJP–ruled Gujarat in neighbouring Rajasthan, a state presently under Congress rule but a traditional Jana Sangh/BJP bastion. It is not insignificant that apart from the large–scale distribution of ‘trishuls’ and incendiary pamphlets now banned by the state government, as also the VHP’s jalabhishek programme, there appears to be a pre–mediated plan at work to destroy mazaars and dargahs which for long have been the common meeting ground for Hindus, Muslims and people from other religions, too.

And, as is also evident from the report of the fact–finding team of human rights activists who visited Malegaon to investigate last month’s riots in that town, the sangh brigade now appears to be working on a plan (in Maharashtra as much as in Gujarat and Rajasthan) whose aim is not so much to kill as to economically cripple the Muslim community.

Elsewhere in this issue we have reproduced a report from the Daily Star published from Dhaka that presents a grim account of the highly condemnable, countrywide attacks on Hindus — murder, rape, loot, arson, nothing has been left out — in Bangladesh from the moment the Jamaat–e–Islami backed Begum Khaleda Zia was returned to power. Without doubt, religious intolerance and communal violence is a sub-continental scourge — Christians were attacked in Pakistan recently in ‘retaliation’ to America’s bombing of Afghanistan — and has to be fought at that level.



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